The Personalization of Electoral Rules: How Shifting Influence From Selectors to Voters Affects Party Unity

Published date01 March 2022
Date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 75(1) 160 –174
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920987898
It is often argued that candidate-centered electoral sys-
tems add to the collective action problems of political
parties. They may threaten party unity in parliamentary
voting by weakening the party’s sanctioning potential and
creating incentives for members of parliament (MPs) to
differentiate themselves from co-partisans (e.g., Carey
2009; Carey and Shugart 1995; Depauw and Martin
2009; Sieberer 2006). Although recent work suggests that
party leaders can take precautions by screening candi-
dates in the selection stage (Carroll and Nalepa 2020;
Coman 2015; Preece 2014; Shomer 2016), the fact that
multidistrict proportional representation (PR) often goes
along with decentralized candidate selection (Bowler,
Farrell, and Katz 1999) still leaves many parties at risk.1
Moreover, European voters’ opportunities to express
preferences for candidates and the impact of these votes
on intra-party seat allocation have increased considerably
in recent decades (Renwick and Pilet 2016).
This study makes three main contributions by examin-
ing in depth how the personalization of electoral rules
affects party unity. First, it suggests conceptualizing the
incentives derived from personalizing the electoral sys-
tem as the result of a shift in electoral impact from party
selectors to voters.2 The scope for any change in a given
case therefore depends on whether targeted voters
rather than the selectors in the party want MPs to vote
differently. Second, in theoretical terms, I incorporate this
notion of a shift in principals’ influence in a spatial model
of parliamentary voting. Since the importance of moni-
toring capacity has been emphasized both in the general
literature (Fearon 1999; Ferejohn 1986; Gailmard and
Jenkins 2009) and in work on electoral systems (André,
Depauw, and Shugart 2014; Bowler and Farrell 1993;
Shugart 2013), the theory also formalizes the (perceived)
monitoring/sanctioning probabilities of the two princi-
pals. From the resulting theoretical framework follows a
rich set of observable implications, notably that an unfor-
tunate trade-off between candidate focus and party-based
representation need not necessarily materialize. When
selectors disagree with a policy supported by the party
group (PG) and popular with an MP’s target electorate,
personalization—as defined here—may actually promote
party unity in voting.
Third, the study presents empirical evidence for this
prediction from the 2010 reform of Sweden’s flexible-list
PR (FLPR) system, which allows me to isolate the effect
PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920987898Political Research QuarterlyDäubler
1University College Dublin, Ireland
Corresponding Author:
Thomas Däubler, University College Dublin, School of Politics and
International Relations, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
The Personalization of Electoral Rules:
How Shifting Influence From Selectors
to Voters Affects Party Unity
Thomas Däubler1
How does making electoral systems more candidate-centered affect party unity? Using a principal-agent perspective,
this study makes three contributions to the literature on this topic. Conceptually, it suggests thinking about the
incentives due to personalization as arising from a shift in electoral impact from party selectors to voters. Theoretically,
it incorporates this notion into a spatial model of parliamentary voting that also considers principals’ monitoring
capacities. From the resulting framework follows a rich set of observable implications, notably that candidate-centered
electoral systems facilitate rather than undermine collective action within parliamentary parties under certain
conditions. Empirically, this study then analyzes the 2010 reform of Sweden’s flexible-list proportional representation
system, which changed the preference vote threshold. As expected, I find that when extreme (district-based) selectors
disagree with the moderate bills supported by the party group leadership, personalized rules incentivize politicians to
support these policies and vote in unison.
parliamentary voting, party unity, personalization, candidate selection, flexible-list PR, principal-agent model

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